Government of the Northwest Territories

Collective Bargaining

Bargaining Overview - UNW

What is collective bargaining, and how does it work?

Collective bargaining is the process through which employees, represented by their union and management in an organization, come together to meet and negotiate to determine the terms and conditions of employment.

A collective agreement is a labour contract between an employer and a union, negotiated through collective bargaining and signed off by both parties.

The Union of Northern Workers (UNW) is the union that represents the Government of the Northwest Territories’ (GNWT) public service, except teachers. The existing Collective Agreement between the Union of Northern Workers and the Minister Responsible for the Public Service expires on March 31, 2016.

Negotiations are now underway to reach agreement on a new collective agreement that will take effect when the current agreement expires on March 31, 2016.

Who decides when collective bargaining takes place?

Under the Northwest Territories’ Public Service Act, either party can decide when they want bargaining to begin. To start the process, either the UNW or the GNWT serves notice to the other party.  Once notice has been served the parties commence negotiating within 60 days, or a later date as agreed upon by both parties.

How does collective bargaining work?

Each party from the negotiations appoints a lead negotiator and a bargaining team. Each party develops a proposal that outlines what they hope to achieve during negotiations. The parties then sit down, exchange proposals, review and discuss the individual elements of each party’s proposal. This can be a very time-consuming process, as each party may need to take time to discuss among themselves whether each element of the other party’s proposal is satisfactory.

During negotiations, each party may choose to withdraw or amend elements of their proposal, as well as to agree to proposals from the other party. When agreement is reached on each item, it is signed off by both parties.

This process can take weeks or months to complete.

The current collective agreement expires on March 31, 2016. What happens if a new agreement is not reached by then?

The terms and conditions of the existing collective agreement remain in place until a new agreement is ratified or until the Employer imposes new terms and conditions of employment. The UNW may also consider job action.

Who may Strike and When?

Under the Public Service Act, employees who are part of a bargaining unit and who are not deemed essential may strike under certain conditions.  These conditions are:

  1. an essential services agreement has been reached, or, alternatively, the parties have agreed that none is required;
  2. no collective agreement is in effect;
  3. twenty-one (21) days have elapsed since the appointment of a mediator; and
  4. the employees’ association has delivered to the Minister, not less than 48 hours before the strike, a notice of intention to strike setting out the date, time and initial location at which the strike will commence.

Where these conditions are not present, a strike will be illegal.  This does mean that the earliest the UNW/PSAC could be in a legal strike position would be after March 31, 2016 and for the NWTTA, after July 31, 2016.

What is Job Action (Strike)?

In the event that the parties are unable to reach an agreement through the collective bargaining process, they have recourse to certain tactics designed to put pressure on the other party. Assuming certain prerequisites are met, as noted above, the employees have the right to strike and the employer has the right to impose terms and conditions of employment on the employees.

(a) The Meaning of “Strike”

The Public Service Act defines a strike as follows:

“strike” includes a cessation of work or a refusal to work or to continue to work by employees, in combination, in concert or in accordance with a common understanding.

How does the Employer prepare for Job Action?

The Public Service Act requires the parties to enter into an essential services agreement before employees can strike.  Negotiations for an essential services agreement begin in February 2016. If the parties are unable to reach agreement on essential services, they may refer the matter to an arbitrator who will make a binding decision.  In the past the parties have agreed to start from the previous developed agreement to minimize what needs to be re-negotiated.

Which positions are deemed essential under the Public Service Act?

“Essential Services” are defined in the Public Service Act as

……services that are necessary to ensure a continuation of minimal service,

  1. to protect the health and safety of the public;
  2. to prevent destruction or serious deterioration of machinery, equipment or premises; or
  3. to prevent disruption of the administration of the courts;

and includes services provided by the most senior employee at each power plant who has responsibility for the on-site operation of the plant.

How long will the new agreement last?

The length of the agreement is an item for negotiation.

How many people does this collective bargaining affect?

As of November 30, 2015, there are 3,901 Members of the Union of Northern Workers Bargaining Unit in the GNWT.

When does bargaining begin? How long will negotiations last?

The union and the GNWT will first meet to exchange proposals and hold initial discussions from January 14-15, 2016. Further negotiations are scheduled to be held from January 25-29, 2016; March 28-31, 2016; May 9-13, 2016. Further sessions will be scheduled if necessary.

In addition to discussions on the collective agreement, the Public Service Act requires the parties to negotiate an Essential and Emergency Services Agreement, which outlines what positions, would be required to continue working in the event of a strike. The parties have agreed to exchange Essential Services proposals in mid-February.

What are the GNWT’s goals for collective bargaining?

The GNWT is committed to fiscal sustainability; we want to negotiate fair and affordable agreements.  Our expenditure growth cannot exceed our revenue growth.

Our overall goal is to maintain an efficient, effective, and sustainable public service.  To do this we need to:

  • Focus on Safety & Health in the Workplace, and
  • Improve fairness and equity for all GNWT employees

We are committed to being an employer of choice, offering our employees a safe and dynamic working environment with opportunities to learn and to contribute to the health and prosperity of the NWT.

What should UNW members expect as a result of negotiations?

It is not possible at this point to predict the outcome of the negotiations.

In developing our proposals, we took into consideration a number of factors including the economic and fiscal environments. We are working for an agreement that invests in our public service while remaining fiscally responsible.